April 23rd, 2000, 7:00pm
Before Scully opened her front door, he puffed up the flowers - a last-minute purchase, the about-to-close-up clerk at the convenience store cursing him out while Mulder had tried to remember her favorite color - in front of his chest, put on his best I’m an ass face. Recently - or, rather, since they’d started seeing each other, maybe even before then - he’d realized that he had many of those types of faces.
When she opened the door, she stood with her brow furrowed in annoyance - after all, no one else would come by unannounced this late on a Sunday evening - and with her pajamas already on, this pair some kind of dejected pink flannel that the season didn’t require. He could hear her little air conditioning unit, the one that dimmed the lights every half-hour, sputtering on in the living room though they day had been temperate. With her makeup off, her hair beginning to tire, and her big blue eyes full of contempt, he labelled her a hazard and prayed - shit, not the day for that - for redemption.
“Hi,” he said feebly.
“I expected you to show this morning.”
Retreating into the apartment - possibly inviting him in, though he wasn’t so sure of that - she leaned against a kitchen cabinet, her back partially to him. On the table were two little wicker baskets, each old and vaguely Longaberger and filled with saran-wrapped cookies and little foiled chocolates. On the couch, a bunched-up blanket lay, and based on the slight humming in the air, he could tell that the television had been on before he’d arrived.
“I’m an ass,” he managed from the doorway.
Humorlessly, she huffed a laugh, and as he stepped toward her, he shivered, the air conditioning making the place too cold, the night beyond her windows casting them both in uncomfortable darkness. He clicked the door shut behind himself, then stilled for a moment, took in his surroundings; if she wouldn’t budge, then he would, so he stepped into the kitchen, opened a cabinet he knew held a vase. After filling the blown glass with water, he pulled away the plastic wrapping on the bouquet, stuck the flowers inside.
“You’re supposed to trim the ends before you put them in water,” she gave softly, and as he looked to her, he saw beyond the anger, past the quiet grief, and found in her eyes a girlish look of hurt, like he’d kicked her on the playground, like he’d taken her favorite doll and had torn its head off with his bare hands. The thought of having power over someone else still made his hands shake, and while he watched her take a deep breath and sigh it out to herself, he wondered about her thesis, about time travel, about going as far back as he could and rearranging their time together. First, he would’ve kissed her sooner, and second, he would’ve kept his word.
“They’re pre-trimmed,” he said even though he didn’t know if they were.
“Alright,” she digressed, leaning her back against the counter and crossing her arms.
Under her gaze, he stood stock-still, his movements and expressions feeling overanalyzed, and though he could sense that she wanted him to speak, he didn’t know what to say that could mend things, make up for how he’d told her he would be here at seven but neglected to mention that he’d meant the evening, not the morning, or so that was his excuse now that he was stuck in her apartment with two Easter baskets on the table, each one put together by meticulous Catholic hands, both looking heirloom in quality. She’d invited him to church, to her fucking church, and he’d said yes despite himself, despite the nagging thought at the back of his mind that he didn’t do Jesus, despite how he knew he’d need to learn how to use an iron before that Sunday. After mass, they were supposed to go back to her mother’s - Bill and Charlie were in town, and Maggie had bought little plastic eggs to hide for the kids - and have mimosas and whatever sugary treat Scully had given up for lent this year. While he’d intended to have Easter dinner with them, he’d had General Tso’s while he sat on his couch instead.
I’m an ass, he thought to himself as he looked at the decrepit flowers and the baskets surrounding them.
“Why did you come over, Mulder?” she asked, her tone hurt. “I got your message. I’m not sure you need to deliver it in-person.”
My message, he thought. That I’m incapable of any kind of commitment. That your brothers are only going to hate me more over the years. That you’re worth more than anything I can offer. That I’m broken and bruised and irreparable, as though I was ever good to begin with. That, ten years down the line, all you’re going to feel for me is nuptial contempt.
Taking a deep breath, he tried, “I came over to apologize.”
At that, she kept her gaze down, sucked in her lips, nodded to herself in agreement with whatever some voice in her head had just blurted. Something about leaving him, he figured. Tonight, he couldn’t hold that against her, found that he even agreed.
She looked up, met his gaze with a wronged woman’s fervor, said, “Then apologize.”
She huffed a sigh, pointed, said, “You’re an ass, and the door’s over there.”
“I don’t want to hear excuses because I know none of them will come anywhere near being understandable, and I don’t want to have a long talk about how you…you give me keychains instead, or wherever that could go,” she insisted, and he couldn’t tell if he was shivering from the coldness of the room or from how tears sprung to her eyes. “I asked you to come knowing that it was a big ask and that, if you wanted to say no, you would, but it was just Easter, Mulder! I know it was a big step, but it wasn’t that big of a step! And you told me you would come. You promised, and my mother made sure to set a place for you at our table tonight, and my brothers expected you to be there. You were supposed to be there.”
“My mother even got Melissa’s Easter basket out for you,” she said as though the statement were a threat. “My mom has one for everyone, Mulder, even for the kids and my sisters-in-law, and because she couldn’t scrape a new one together in time for you, she gave you my sister’s. It’s tradition, Mulder, and it matters to me. And you couldn’t even be bothered to show up.”
I deserve this, he thought, and he did. He’d promised but had stayed home anyway. He’d told her he would be there at seven. He’d told her he would press his shirt. He’d told her he would show up.
“I just…” she trailed off, then let a tear slip uncomfortably. “I thought this was worth more to you than what it actually is. And i feel stupid for being wrong.”
“This?” He motioned between them, avoiding the baskets and flowers. “This? Scully, I-”
“Don’t say it,” she insisted with annoyance.
“This means…it means everything to me.”
“Then prove it,” she threatened. “Do something about it. Stop leaving me hanging.”
“You didn’t today. You had a perfectly good opportunity, but you didn’t take it.”
“You’re right,” he forced. “I didn’t take it. I was a coward, and I screwed up, and I’m sorry.”
Dejectedly, she huffed a breath. He was beginning to hate that little quirk.
“And I’m bound to do it again!” he continued. “You know me, Scully. Next week, I’ll do something like this again, and the week after that, and the week after that, and you’re going to hate me. You’re going to hate my guts, and it’ll be justified because I’m the kind of person who can’t handle church and family and holidays. And I’m trying, Scully, I’m really trying, but-”
“Staying home instead isn’t trying,” she said evenly, dully. “That’s giving up. If you want to give up, then at least have the dignity to tell me.”
He took a deep breath, tried to calm his racing heart, searched desperately for the words that would make this right but found none.
Looking up and meeting his gaze, she said flatly, “I think it would be best if you left.”
Yeah, he agreed, so he nodded to her, slowly peeled himself from the apartment, ran his gaze over every element within here. The rice-paper lamps, the couch that hadn’t been comfortable to sleep on a few years ago when he’d stayed over, the door to her polite little sanctuary of a bedroom, the little shakes of a running fridge. Though they could fight until morning, he knew that, sometimes, he could never do right by his mistakes, that it would take her weeks to trust him again, that, if this was the final straw for her, he would need to understand. Five months without commitment meant something, and though his mind nagged but you’ve been committed to her since the start, he was unable to find a recent example of that beyond taking her to happy hour two Thursdays ago and watching shitty sci-fi movies with her in his apartment. If a Mulder of his past were to see him now, even that sorry asshole would ask man, what the fuck is your problem?
Though he thought about kissing her forehead, about an I love you whispered as he shut the door behind himself, he was silent as he opened the door, as he went to take his leave.
“Take the basket,” she insisted from the kitchen. “I’m sick of looking at it.”
So he left the door ajar, came back under her gaze as he picked up the handwoven and aging heirloom with ulder taped over the engraved elissa on the basket’s front, and while he carried the basket to the door, he glanced back to her, watched her paw at her wet eyes with disdain.
When he finally came outside, the night comfortably cool, his car parked a few feet away, he felt his shoe stick in something, then looked down to see a defenestrated pile of yellow Gerbera daisies littering his path, their stems untrimmed. Taking a deep breath, he stood still, his gaze stuck on the way gusts of wind blew dead petals across the concrete sidewalk, the darkened scene reminding him of overgrown gravestones where people had left a pile of unkempt flowers a few days beforehand out of obligation.
I deserve that, he thought, then headed to his car.